Sanitation woes continue to plague girl students4 min read . Updated: 18 Aug 2015, 02:54 PM IST
According to the District Information System for Education report 2013-14, nationally, 19.15% of primary schools do not have separate girls' toilets
Every time she felt her bladder was full, 12-year-old Madhuri Kumari left her classroom and ran to her nearby home to use the toilet. At her government-run school in Sangam Vihar, South Delhi, this was the norm for many students for years. The primary school with 1,300 boys and an equal number of girls had neither a toilet nor a drinking water facility.
What was more embarrassing for the girl than running home was explaining to others why. Then she stopped going to school. But with the intervention of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) and the government, the school now has a functional toilet for girl students. And Madhuri is back in her class.
The construction of toilets is a key element of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Swachh Bharat (Clean India) mission, which was launched last year with the aim of eliminating open defection in five years.
The case of Madhuri and her school is not unique. According to a recent report by Dasra, a philanthropy organisation, 23% of girl students drop out of school when they reach puberty and those who don’t often miss on average at least five days of classes a month during their menstrual period. Construction of toilets in schools increases overall attendance by 11%, said the report published in June this year but made public on 12 August.
“The problem becomes worse for adolescent girls particularly when they have their monthly periods. Can you imagine how humiliating it can be when you have to keep telling your male teacher why you need to go home so many times in a day? When you are a grown-up, it hurts your dignity to relieve yourself behind a bush," says Reena Banerjee, secretary of NGO Nav Shrishti, a project of Child Rights and You (CRY).
Nav Shristi has been working on sanitation in Sangam Vihar for three years now—from repairing broken doors of the toilets to unblocking sewage pipes.
According to the District Information System for Education report 2013-14, nationally, 19.15% of primary schools do not have separate girls’ toilets, 6% of all primary schools do not have facilities for drinking water and 58.4% of all primary schools do not have a hand-washing facility near the toilets.
Over 620 million Indians lack access to a toilet. Poor sanitation costs India 6.4% of its gross domestic product, or more than $53 billion a year. Across India, 419,092 toilets need to be built or repaired to ensure full sanitation coverage in schools, the Dasra report said.
While improved water supply and sanitation leads to 23% and 36% reduction in morbidity due to diarrhea, respectively, hand-washing can lead to a 44% reduction in such cases.
On his maiden Independence Day speech last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “…I want to make a beginning today itself… all schools in the country should have toilets with separate toilets for girls… This target should be finished within one year… and on the next 15 August, we should be in a firm position to announce that there is no school in India without separate toilets for boys and girls."
What’s the situation now?
According to the Dasra report, separate toilets for boys and girls have a significant impact on attendance and education outcomes for both genders, albeit in different ways. “For girls, existing gender norms and concerns about privacy are paramount once they reach puberty. They need access to a toilet or a private place to manage their menstruation. A lack of privacy also affects young boys."
The Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, run by the Ministry of Drinking Water and Sanitation (MDWS) in rural areas, and the ministry of urban development (MoUD) in urban areas covers 4,041 statutory towns and aims to create a Clean India by 2019.
To achieve these objectives, the government has offered subsidies to the tune of ₹ 15,000 for building a toilet, ₹ 20,000 for an Aanganwadi toilet and ₹ 54,000 for a school toilet complex.
Since last August, while the government has taken the lead and built 122,140 toilets, or 45% of its target till mid-June this year, public sector undertakings had constructed just 18,520 toilets, or just 11% of their target of 163,986, according to a 15 July report in The Indian Express.
It also said that the review of the Swachh Vidyalaya programme revealed that eight entities—Tata Consultancy Services Ltd, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd, Rotary International, Infosys Foundation, ITC Ltd, Relaxo Footwears Ltd and Coca Cola Co.’s India unit—are yet to start work on 2,925 toilets, and work is in progress on 1,134 toilets.
However, a 15 July press release by Tata Consultancy Services said that under the first phase of its sanitation initiative, the company has completed building toilets for girls in about 1,041 schools spread across Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Bihar.
For Madhuri’s mother Rupa, the toilet in her school means a lot. When Madhuri decided not to go to school, so did her two brothers. “They said if our older sister isn’t going, why should we?" Rupa said. They both have followed her back to school since.
Her family cannot afford a private school, but Rupa says she cannot force her children to go to a toilet-less school. “No child should have to drop out because of such reasons," Rupa says.